Friday, November 29, 2013

A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST AS A PREREQUISITE FOR THE NEW EVANGELIZATION


As a southern pastor, who grew up in the Bible belt and had childhood friends who were not Catholic but very, very religious in terms of their own Christianity, I think I have been able to see the good character that Protestant denominations produce in their members.

One of the things that we southern Catholics know about our evangelical Protestant friends is their willingness to share their faith and more importantly, their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. For Catholics who are transplanted to the south for the first time, this is a bit off-putting because in Catholic "ghettos" of the northeast and elsewhere, religion is a private affair and one doesn't talk about it with their friends let alone with acquaintances or strangers.

After I became a priest, I would run into "former" Catholics who were brought up in the pre-Vatican II Church but had left the full communion of the Church for Protestant sects that were more pentecostal or evangelical. When I asked them why they did so, almost all of the answers revolved around discovering a personal relationship with Jesus in the denominations that friends had invited them to attend.

But it was also a community of believers, good friendship that developed in this congregations where the focus was on a personal relationship with Christ that kept them going week after week and regularly to Bible studies that were supportive. They also found "recipes" in how to live their Christian lives daily.

It seems to me that Pope Francis in his new apostolic exhortation is calling Catholics to this type of being Church but with a distinctive Catholic ecclesiology, Christology and devotional life.

When I think back on those Catholics who told me they left the Church, and how they said they did not experience a personal relationship with Christ, I wondered how this could be with our emphasis on Jesus in the Eucharist both as food and adoration for any Catholic in the world who could be present before the Lord in this way.

So how do we get Catholics, the majority of us, to be intimately in a relationship with Christ in and through the Church.

The pope seems to be pointing through several ways:

1. Through the Sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist, shored up with frequent Confession (every two weeks!).

2. Through the popular devotions of the Church in their myriad of styles:

a. Eucharistic devotion in the form of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament
b. Christ-centered devotions, such as the Divine Mercy devotions
c. Marian devotion through the Holy Rosary and other devotions
d. devotion to the various saints
(all popular devotions apart from Benediction do not need a priest, can be very private and personal but also communal in a private sort of way

3. Bible study and on-going catechesis especially in small gatherings of the faithful or in larger parish settings
4. Service to the poor beginning at home in the family and extending to the local community and beyond
5. Sharing of one's Catholic faith through word and good works, the new evangelization and doing so with other Catholics and other people but not in a proselytizing way.

All of this is to support one of the key elements of Vatican II, that the laity are to bring the message of Christ and our way of life to the world, beginning in their homes and extending to their work and their politics.

This should encourage Catholics who lament that so many Catholics keep their Catholic Faith to themselves as a kind of medication rather than a "caffine" to kick them into high gear as it concerns not only their private lives but their public lives.

It is a word of warning to Catholics who are in power in terms of politics and employment, to care for the poor, beginning with the poorest of the poor, the innocent unborn and extending to the financially and materially poor, the sick and those who suffer in a variety of ways and extends also to the guilty such as those in prison.

This I think is the new Evangelization. It will include a variety of ways of celebrating the Mass including the Extraordinary Form and the Anglican Use. It will include inculturation but guided by the bishops and bishops' conferences (not by individual improvising priests and congregations).

At Saint Joseph Church, while we are far from perfect, I think we have been making strides in the right direction of the New Evangelization as highlighted by Pope Francis and his predecessors, Pope Benedict, Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Paul VI. These are our efforts:

1. Strong Catholic identity promoted through the Sacraments, especially Holy Mass in both forms and in a solemn way for both forms and the promotion of frequent Confession and times expanded to make it possible.

2. Strong popular devotions beginning with Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction, a perpetual adoration chapel with availability 24 hours a day and an open Church for the majority of day light time and Marian devotions such as the Holy Rosary and novenas

3. Service to the poor through Family Advancement Ministries, DePaul USA's Daybreak a day shelter and triage center for the homeless, the Saint Vincent dePaul Society and collaboration with ecumenical endeavors to help the homeless

4. Outreach beyond our borders with a 3rd world parish

5. assisting families in learning and living their faith together through small groups and other associations






11 comments:

Gene said...

This is a slippery slope which almost always leads to emotionalism and a banal, self-absorbed theology. I grew up in the Southern Baptist church, then became Presbyterian in college in order to flee the Baptist emotionalism and was ultimately a Calvinist pastor for 20 years. There was less of this in Calvinism, but it was still around. As a rule, all this puerile "Jesus talk" makes me think the song "Feelings" should be in every prot. hymnal.
No meaningful theology is predicated upon emotion. Even the most personal and passionate prayers and ecstasies of the Saints and the Church Fathers were solidly grounded inside the solid walls of Catholic doctrine and the structure of the Liturgy. This structure protects us from the vagaries of feelings and the subjectivism that is the enemy of dogma and true faith and worship.
We need to be careful; I foresee a new rise in charismatic worship, something about which we should all be concerned.

Anonymous said...

I 10000 times agree with Gene. I also grew up in various Protestant sects in the Deep South, and if any one bit of that theology, especially the emotional drivin stuff comes into the Church, adios to anything seemingly Catholic, and it will become too "Catholic looking" for these even further protestanised Catholics. I have also been to several Pentecostal churches, and this is something I think the Church should stay very far away from, this is my own personal opinion after having been, it's not hard to see it is completely emotion driven.
I'm still convinced that to even have a new evangelization that actually works..we need to make our liturgy more Catholic, not less. And Fr., I think for the first time I'm going to have to disagree with you on Inculturation, ESPECIALLY as regulated by the bishops conferences, this would be a complete disaster as they are overwhelmingly progressive, this is obvious.
These are just my 2cents

Henry said...

Is it not obvious that the new evangelization will not get of the ground and anywhere until our bishops unite in placing first priority on recovering the sacred in the liturgy which--today more than eve--is the primary contact of Catholics with Church and Christ?

(If so, it seems to me that, however interesting all these discussions of other issues of Church direction and policy--however interesting to aficionados and professional Catholics--are rather pointless and ineffectual.)

But what can spur the bishops to recognize the liturgy as "source and summit". Despite the best intentions of both, Pope Benedict obviously failed to do so, and Pope Francis appears to have other priorities. Perhaps we must await a future pope with the insight of Benedict, the charisma of Francis, and a strong hand to get it done.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, Henry.
Fr. Z: "Save the liturgy, save the world"

George said...

I think what issues(in many cases) the Holy Father speaks to and how he addresses those issues is through the prism of his Argentine experience which is really the Latin American experience.
This is true whether he speaks to economic or spiritual issues.
The countries of South and Central America are all predominately Catholic countries.
When the Pope speaks, he is first and foremost addressing Catholics, both generally in the world at large, but also more specifically to particular regions of the world.
Listen to what the Holy Father has said and read what he has written. There is much that applies to each catholic individual, that is true. How much of what he has spoken and written to would apply to what is going on in Africa versus what is and has been happening
in Central and South America(as far as the Faith goes)? The situation of the Catholic church in Europe has some parallel to the Church in Latin America except in Europe the situation of the Church is even more dire. In Africa and parts of Asia the Church is doing much better although there are other challenges on those continents.
In Latin America, many Catholics have been leaving the Faith and joining Protestant communities. This is especially true in poorer areas where Evangelicals and others have
been going into these areas and "setting up shop", providing services the government(unlike in this country) either doesn't provide or does so in a very minimal way. It is a scandal how the poor subsist in these Catholic countries versus how it is for them in the predominately Protestant U.S. The protestants have gone in to fill that vacuum
and (no surprise) thay have made many converts.

Still, each Catholic should reflect on those things the Holy Father has said and written
(which have a specific relevance)and reflect on how they can be applied and acted on both individually and in the parish. For instance, how do we serve people within our own parish
who are having difficulties( financial etc.)?

rcg said...

I think the way many of the Protestants mean this personal relationship is really a sort of superstition where they have a power derived from that relationship that they can wield. It is actually a sort of a belief that they have a power over God that is at the root of many of the abuses Catholics have surfed over the centuries. I urge causation. I think that the people you met who were lapsed Catholics who were attracted to this personal relationship speaks not to a shortcoming of the Church, but the strength the the attraction of this heresy.

I am coming around to the wisdom or proselytization through example first and words last. It is a sort of Montessori Evangelisation.

Pater Ignotus said...

rcg - I think I agree with your understanding of what many Christians mean when they speak of "a personal relationship with Jesus."

Too often I find that the "personal relationship" consists of a one-time "accepting Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior," as if this is fully accomplished by a one-time expression of faith.

I think many fallen-away Catholics have been unwilling or unable to accept the Catholic Church's teaching on divorce and remarriage. I doubt they think they wield power over God; rather they find it less demanding to adhere to the expectations of other churches.

Almost certainly, Protestant churches are better at welcoming newcomers, at being hospitable to visitors, or to helping develop friendships between/among members of their churches.

Gene said...

Yes, RCG, Aristotle and Newton urged causation as well. I am personally also in favor of it. Certainly beats constant conjunction or the radical skepticism of Berkley or Hume.

Joseph Johnson said...

Getting back to liturgy and restoring the sense of the Sacred, I need someone to enlighten me regarding Sacrosanctum Concilium and music at Mass. My understanding of the document is that it shows a strong preference for "the treasure of Sacred music." If my reading of this aspect of SC is correct then how could the principle of "inculturation" outweigh this preference for Sacred music in a typical English-speaking American parish, even in the South?

More specifically, why wouldn't the use of, say, the "Simple English Propers" at Mass in place of hymns (especially those of the "Glory and Praise" genre) be more in accordance with the priorities of Sacrosanctum Concilium? Please help me on this one . . .

rcg said...

It is official: I hate auto correct on these tiny iPhone screens. If it is not disabled, then "I urge caution".

Pater Ignotus said...

Sacred music does not come from a specific era, is not exclusively sung in Latin, and does not follow one particular musical style (chant).

Inculturation does not mean that one style "trumps" another. It means that the Church understands that the traditional Roman liturgy is not attached exclusively to one style of music or architecture or vesture or . . . .

The Eurocentrism that dominated the liturgy ended with collapse of colonialism. As upsetting (to put it mildly) as the demise of that system was, in the end it is beneficial to the Church and all her members, most of whom are not European.